In a little-known Karombo village on the outskirts of Kisumu town is a man who holds a title that is as unusual as it is controversial.
Popularly referred to us“ Bengo Lord” Mzee Peter Bengo Nyaure earned the distinction after breaking the realms of widow inheritance.
Perhaps, to prove the adage “disability is not inability”, the 67-year-old from Nyahera division in Kisumu West constituency, and who is living with a disability, has become renowned inheritor of widows and stickler for age-old Luo traditions on such escapades. To date, Mzee Nyaure admits he has inherited more than 60 widows —and is still ready to expand the lineage.
“Mimi nimejitolea kuwasaidia kina mama wajane ili maisha yao ya baadaye yawe sawa,” (I have decided to help the widows so that they can have a better future) he says.
Anyone who meets him for the first time will definitely notice his sense of humour and how he mingles freely with the women. The “traditional romantic” boasts of having “sweet lyrics that baffle and attract” widows.
“I know how to talk to women because what you say to them can make you either win or lose them. And for me I focus on winning them,” he says.
The first widow to dance to his tune was his sister-in-law in 1996.
“She asked me to visit her and she told me to relax. But when I wanted to go away later, she refused and asked me to spend a night and that’s how we started being friends,” says Bengo.
The casual worker at a local secondary school rarely lives with the widows he inherits, however. Instead, he only performs what he refers to as “the important rite” before letting off the widow to set up her homestead in line with Luo traditions.
“I realised they were having difficulties setting up homes after their husbands died. That’s when I volunteered to assist them. Some have even given birth and the children may turn to be doctors and engineers. They will also help increase our voting bloc,” he says.
Bengo is, however, economical with details of his first family.
“I have many children and I am not ready to divulge their details. They are so many and what I do is none of their business. But I have only one wife who I love so much and she is not against me helping the widows,” he says.
The PD team accompanied Bengo on a bright sunny day to one of his homesteads where he walked surprisingly stealthily for a man on clutches.
He says that he checks on some of the widows daily and the warm reception he received was an indication of a man held dear. He, however, could not allow pictures taken of him with the widows for fear of exposing them to unnecessary risks but grants one of them permission to talk to our team.
Elizabeth Akello told us she was forced to seek the services of the ‘Lord’ when her husband died 23 years ago. “My husband died in 1995 and the house we lived in collapsed. So I decided to look for my in-law who helped me set up this new home,” she says.
Akello says their relationship has been mutual, and Bengo occasionally provides them with basic needs.Still, it is no mean feat for a man his age to keep up with the rigours of such a draining but pleasurable exercise.
But Mzee Bengo says his diet of traditional food that consists osuga, fish and kuonbel (brown ugali) is the most probable reason for his unfailing virility. But not everyone approves of Mzee Bengo’s exploits. According to Luo elders, their colleague is “hiding behind tradition to take advantage” of vulnerable widows.
“That is not wife inheritance but terrorism. He is terrorising widows because a real wife inheritor only goes for one or two women,” says Mzee Adera Osawa, Luo Council of Elders secretary general.
He adds that if a man dies, one of his brothers or close relatives inherits his widow and must meet all of her marital requirements. “But what Bengo is doing is different,” he adds. Wife inheritance has been said to be one of the leading causes of HIV/Aids in Nyanza region, but Bengo says every precaution is taken before he inherits a widow.
“I first get to know their HIV status before I help them so there is nothing wrong that I have done,” he says.
In 1999, the Luo Council of Elders met and “drastically reformed” the practice of wife inheritance, where they agreed that it should be reserved for widows who are not infected with the Aids virus.